25 - May 1, 2011

The Presidents of Pakistan and Turkey, during their meetings in Ankara last week, took many important decisions to promote bilateral relations and strengthen economic ties and vowed to take them to new heights.

The two countries took a joint leap forward in economic collaboration when the presidents of the two countries formally agreed to upgrade the existing Islamabad-Istanbul railway line, open up five Turkish banks branches in Pakistan, and make a currency swap arrangement to bolster trade and commerce between the two countries. They also vowed to double bilateral from present one billion dollar annually to two billion dollar within the next two years.

President Asif Ali Zardari was on a 4 day official visit of Turkey on the invitation of President Abdullah Gul. The two Presidents held two meetings. President Zardari was on his first bilateral visit to Turkey as his earlier five visits during the last three years were to attend trilateral summits on Afghanistan and international conferences.

During the meetings, the two leaders held detailed discussions on bilateral matters and regional issues of mutual interest. President Zardari expressed the view that his visit would add new chapter of cooperation and engagement between the two countries.

Briefing news reporters about the meetings, spokesperson to the President Zardari, Farhatullah Babar said that the meetings started soon after President Zardari arrived at the President Gul house. At the delegation level meeting the pre-feasibility of the proposed train between Pakistan and Turkey was unveiled. According to the pre-feasibility, a weekly fast goods train would carry merchandise from Lahore to Istanbul in 9 days as compared to 18 days at present and further into the European markets thereby opening and connecting hitherto unconnected and unexplored markets. The train can be connected to other countries in the region and the Central Asia region in the second phase.

Turkish President in a joint press conference with President Zardari told that as his country had a customs union with Europe to trade goods, it would extend full support for enhancing Pakistani exports to European markets. In his remarks before the international media, President Abdullah Gul said his country's economic relations with Pakistan were based on emotions emanating from sense of brotherhood. "Our economic relations are based on the premise that Pakistan occupies a special and unique place in our scheme of things," he added.

With the strong encouragement of the leaders of the two countries, the Turkish Union of Chambers has announced to immediately start a company to run the project. The company will seek collaboration with business groups of Pakistan and Iran to execute the project. "We are planning to get the train running in less than a year," said the president of Turkish Union of Chambers during a briefing to the two presidents.

President Zardari also invited Turkish companies to invest in the proposed project of building new city Zulfiqarabad in Sindh to ease pressure on the province's mega cities. He also offered Turkish companies participation in reclamation of 2.5 million acres of land now under sea on the basis of public-private partnership basis in which the Turkish companies would be allowed to set up economic ventures of their own on part of reclaimed lands.

Accepting the offer, President Abdullah Gul said that he would soon send a team of private entrepreneurs to examine the proposal. While discussing the matters relating to enhanced cooperation between Civil Aviation Authorities of the two countries, President Gul declared that Turkey would never seek an arrangement that would put Pakistan to any disadvantage.

Regional situation, development in the Middle East and issues relating to trilateral (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey) meetings also came under discussion and the two leaders found complete unanimity in their views on these issues. A short documentary on the recently concluded joint military exercises of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey, the first of its kind, was also screened on the occasion to highlight the growing trilateral cooperation.

About the current situation in North Africa and Middle East, President Zardari said that as pillars of stability in the boarder region, Pakistan and Turkey are well placed to play a positive role in dealing with the prevailing situation in the Middle East. President Zardari also thanked his Turkish counterpart for assistance in the evacuation of Pakistani nationals from Libya.

Welcoming the successful outcome of the inaugural session of the High Level Cooperation Council in December last, President Zardari called for setting up of a joint investment company to undertake infrastructural projects for institutionalizing financial cooperation. He also called for enhanced security and defence cooperation through military to military interaction, joint exercises and collaboration in defense production which was also supported by the Turkish President. President Zardari expressed gratitude to the people and government of Turkey for always standing by Pakistan and recalled the generous help and assistance in the aftermath of devastating earthquake and floods in Pakistan. He said that visit to Turkey was just like visiting home and the two countries were bound by strong bonds of deep friendship, similarities of views and commonality of interest.